Move to ban kosher slaughter a pressure cooker for investors

  • JTAOpEdKosherandHalaalSlaughter
(JTA) On 1 September, the picturesque region of Wallonia became the second in Belgium to ban killing animals without stunning them, rendering both kosher and most halaal methods of slaughter illegal.
by RABBI JACOB SIEGEL | Sep 05, 2019

In the United Kingdom, the Royal Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals has also advocated against shechita, or kosher slaughter, as have several prominent UK politicians.

While the kosher-keeping world has been paying attention to these and other recent developments by European governments and legislators, major food corporations have been facing a campaign of their own.

Two of the world’s primary animal welfare organisations, Compassion in World Farming and World Animal Protection, advocate for governments in Europe to institute bans against religious slaughter, and have recently turned their attention to food corporations that produce, distribute, and sell meat. They seek to use investor pressure to discourage what they consider inhumane practices, among them kosher and halaal slaughter.

Even a small shift in corporate behaviour can have wide implications on a range of issues, including things as basic as the foods we eat and how they are grown. For example, after years of campaigning, dozens of corporations, including Walmart, McDonald’s, and General Mills, committed to source exclusively cage-free eggs in their supply chains. The commitment from McDonald’s alone means two billion eggs a year will be sourced from more humanely raised chickens.

Most investor campaigns currently targeting food companies align with Jewish values. For example, my organisation, JLens, recently initiated a campaign with Amazon (which now owns Whole Foods) to institute better policies and systems regarding food waste, an issue with direct tie-ins to the Jewish principle of bal tashchit (not wasting).

But this prominent investor effort by Compassion in World Farming and World Animal Protection discriminates against Jewish and Muslim consumers. In February, the Business Benchmark on Farm Animal Welfare, the largest such global benchmark of companies, released its annual scores of how 150 of the largest food producers, retailers, manufacturers, and restaurants perform on a range of animal welfare issues.

While much of Benchmark’s work aligns with Jewish values on preventing suffering for animals, unfortunately it also has a clear bias against kosher slaughter, including calling such slaughter “controversial”, and comparing it to the production of foie gras and veal.

Last year, JLens engaged in a months-long campaign to challenge Benchmark for its treatment of religious slaughter, and Benchmark made some substantial improvements.

In spite of this, this year’s report continues to penalise companies that produce or sell kosher and halaal meat. The report asked companies about their welfare practices, companies were docked points simply for producing kosher meat. These points have significance: a corporation’s ranking could fall, its reputation could suffer, and investors could react accordingly.

Kosher slaughter has a much more favourable reception in the United States than in Europe. But in our interconnected world, many corporations doing business in multiple countries will be influenced by developments in Europe. Benchmark itself, based in London, scores companies from around the world and represents a global coalition of investor signatories with more than $2 trillion (R30.5 trillion) in assets.

As the world continues to wake up to the power of the values-based investing movement, hopefully the broader Jewish community will recognise the necessity of having a voice in the movement as well.

JLens attended Benchmark’s report launch in March in London to raise concerns about its religious discrimination. But this campaign will not be won quickly.

Concerned investors can’t just parachute in on issues of concern. To have credibility in the responsible investing field requires a long-term commitment backed up with actual capital. The Jewish community can and should speak out against this discrimination. The most effective way to do so will be by engaging as responsible investors ourselves.

  • Rabbi Jacob Siegel is the director of engagement for JLens, an organisation that serves as a bridge between the Jewish community and the responsible investing arena.


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